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Private Channel: What's the right amount of PTO to take on an unlimited vacation policy?

Ask yourself: What would a European do?

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July 28, 2023
Hi, okay. My company has an unlimited vacation policy. Sounds great, right? But let’s be real here. Any and all vacation time I request can be rejected by my boss, and I won’t get paid out for unused vacation time when I leave. It’s a “don’t use it, nothing to lose” one-two punch. Am I being too cynical?
I don’t want to get played by this policy, but I also don’t want it to get me in trouble. So a couple of questions: how many days should I be taking off per year? Is there a “right” way to divvy up the time? Are there any unstated taboos I’m in danger of violating? What’s the etiquette here?
—🌴 Unvacated time

Hello and welcome back to #private-channel, your occasional work advice column. Thank you for your query. The short answer is: TAKE AS MUCH VACATION AS YOU CAN.

The long answer? Well, let’s look at some statistics. According to Forbes, 28 million Americans don’t get any paid vacation—that’s nearly a third of all U.S. workers. And employees who do get paid vacation don’t take it: the U.S. Travel Association estimates that over 765 million vacation days went unused by Americans in 2018 alone—about 33 percent of their paid time off (PTO) on average. Of those who do take PTO, over half report working while on vacation. Yikes.

Let’s consider unlimited PTO. Pioneered by Netflix, which launched what it called its “no vacation policy” in 2003, unlimited PTO continues to grow in popularity—especially in the tech sector. According to Indeed, job postings with unlimited PTO rose 178 percent from 2015 to 2019. But, infamously, people with unlimited vacation time do not take as much time off as those with a set number of vacation days. The average U.S. worker takes 17 PTO days a year, while those with unlimited vacation policies only take off 10 days, as reported by Forbes. And, as you mentioned, if you don’t take any time off, your employer doesn’t owe you anything if you leave. 

So—unless you use this policy to your advantage, which no one can do for you!—you’re gonna get the short end of the vacation stick. Here’s how this breaks down, time-wise:

Less than a week

NO. DON’T DO THIS.

A week

You deserve better. You know this. I know this. Your manager should know this too.

Two weeks

Okay, yeah. This is fine. But it’s not great.

Three weeks

Congratulations! You have arrived at the minimum threshold for making unlimited PTO worth it. Remember, you need to keep doing this every year.

Four weeks

Yes! Take that time! You deserve it! 

More than four weeks

Unlimited means without limit.

This is what people do in Europe.

Your are living your best life (as possible within U.S.-based capitalism).

Now that you know you should take off as much time as possible (be the reggaeton Dobby you want to see in the world), we can turn to your other questions. How to divide your time? Take off some days around the holidays. Take one or more long-ass (≧10 days) vacations. Take several shorter (≧3 days) vacations. This is your one wild and precious life. If you can swing it, why not try to take off a whole month at a time??

The only etiquette is: when you request time off, give plenty of notice (at least a month for PTO requests greater than a day, and more if you plan to be away longer). Try not to screw over your coworkers, but companies don’t have feelings. They’ll survive while you’re away—and will be all the better for it when you return 💫revitalized💫 and ✨rejuvenated✨.

Email somebody@roadmapmag.com with your own work-related queries.

This is the end mark. You have reached the end!

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